Wisconsin Football: Bold and Not-so-Bold Predictions for the 2011 Badgers
Screw crystal balls. Return the tarot cards and give your local fortune teller her pink slip.
The Wisconsin Badgers have started the year like many others prophesied, but now those preseason analyses need to be revisited and revised as the team and season begin to take shape.
Some "givens" litter this attempt at athletic clairvoyance and some absolute truths simply do not need to be recycled—like Montee Ball will run for more than 1,000 yards (1,188 to be exact.) Regardless, forecasting the future may prove as fruitless as cutting a Wisconsin linemen for the buffet but not nearly as scary.
Prediction No. 1: Russell Wilson May Actually Last the Entire Season
Predictions are often seen as the low-hanging fruit in sports journalism, and the fruit droops that much lower after the season has already begun. It does not take Nostradamus to see Russell Wilson is very, very good, but dual-threat quarterbacks are a blessing and a curse. Their ability to run and gun make for incredible highlight reels, but every scramble could be the last. Michigan's Denard Robinson could barely finish the last two seasons after getting hit again and again.
Wilson is certainly known for his feet, as well as his arm. He has taken flight already this season but it has been a somewhat rare sight compared to his days with NC State. When he does take off, defenses rarely get a clean hit because the receivers, tight ends and running backs all know how to block.
This kind of team effort gives the Badgers hope that their new star can stay durable and viable throughout his only season with the squad.
Prediction No. 2: The Tight End Will Make or Break the Passing Game
Prediction No. 1 leads us to Prediction No. 2. Defenses are going to want to stop the run and force the throw regardless of how successful they are at it. Passes mean more chances for turnovers and less time off the clock. When playing Wisconsin, it is a sound strategy. Since Wilson can hurt you through the air, do not expect him to shy away from passing; points will still be scored.
Much has been written about the Toon-Wilson connection, but it's the tight end Jacob Pedersen that will save the day. Wisconsin loves to use the tight end in a variety of ways and with former standout Lance Kendricks playing on Sundays, enter Pedersen.
So far he has 164 yards receiving and four touchdowns to his name.
Prediction No. 3: The Defense Will Be Better on Paper Than on the Field
The pistol, spread and I-formation have all tested the Badgers' mettle. No huddle? Stacked receivers, you say? Been there, stopped that.
But will that success be an optical illusion?
The Badgers will not be known as a smothering defense, but it will also not be a sieve. So far, the defense has allowed opposing offenses to tear up turf to the tune of 811 yards, while allowing an average of eight points to be scored. Besides a 2009 Alabama team which held opponents to barely a dozen points per game, recent national champions have allowed opposing offenses more than 22 points per contest. So the Badgers already start off with a nice statistical cushion to work off of.
With a quarter of the season in the books and no real offensive juggernaut on the schedule, the Badger D could be poised to be one of the school's best on the stat sheet. Most importantly, this defense will be allowed to flourish because most of the time they will be playing with the lead. Desperation will lead to more turnovers and self-inflicted mistakes as the Badgers' defense collects the glory.
Prediction No. 4: Speed Will Define the Badgers for the Rest of the Season
Yes. Speed. For the first time since Camp Randall was a Civil War training camp, the Wisconsin Badgers be known for their speed and not just their girth.
Recruitniks will point to Bielema's efforts to get more players from Texas and Florida, and that strategy may finally be paying dividends on all sides of the ball. Speedsters James White, Antonio Fenelus and Aaron Henry all hail from the Sunshine State while Marcus Cromartie is a Texas native. All of these players provide an upgrade in all-around athletic velocity that previous Badger teams lacked. (Wisconsin has produced some incredibly quick kick and punt returners, but which BCS school hasn't?)
But the speed gods have not overlooked Midwesterners Chris Borland and Mike Taylor either. Both LBs can move as well as anyone in their position, both laterally and horizontally for rushing the passer.
Are the days of the plodding Big Ten linemen and slow-footed defensive end over? No, but those days may be numbered in Madison.